The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are teaming up to optimize coal gasifier operation through neutron imaging — an effort that could lead to more efficient energy production than that of conventional methods.
The collaboration brings together NETL’s expertise in fossil energy and computational modeling with ORNL’s capabilities in neutron imaging. The research team will use neutron imagining techniques to observe coal gasifier behavior during operation and then validate results from computer-simulated models used for design and optimization.
Gasification is the process that converts bio- or fossil-based feedstocks into syngas, which can be used for highly efficient energy and chemical feedstock production. Syngas, composed primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, can be used in a variety of ways. It can aid in the production of fuel and chemical feedstocks, and CO2 removed from syngas prior to combustion helps enable carbon capture and sequestration. This makes gasification a critical technology in the search for clean energy supplies and domestic energy security.
NETL uses its advanced Multiphase Flow with Interphase Exchanges (MFiX) software suite to help design and optimize coal gasification devices. The MFiX computer code describes the hydrodynamics, heat transfer and chemical reactions in fluid-solids systems. The calculations give transient data on the three-dimensional distribution of pressure, velocity, temperature and other factors in testing. This is information that is critical to understanding gasifier performance for design and optimization.
Validating the results of these models is key to ensuring accuracy, and high-quality data from experiments is critical to the validation process. That’s where ORNL’s capabilities in neutron imaging come in. Neutron imaging is a technique similar to X-ray imaging that is useful for non-destructive testing in applications where X-ray radiography is not possible. As a result, researchers are able to learn more about the properties of the observed material or process than from what a standard X-ray could provide in a system at high-temperature operating conditions. Neutron imaging is especially useful for its ability to image complex systems with chemical reactions, like those found in gasifiers.
ORNL is using neutron imaging to directly analyze coal chemical composition changes during gasification conditions. The data will be used to generate information on gasifier performance, which can inform the computer-generated models.
NETL researcher William Rogers, who works with NETL’s Computational Device Engineering team, said the collaboration’s work will ensure continued accurate results as the technology is further developed. “The results from using neutron imaging techniques will be compared with MFiX model results to assess the accuracy of simulated gasifier behavior. The outcomes from this study will provide a greater understanding of the gasification process to aid model validation and provide data to guide optimal design and operation for improved gasifier performance,” Rogers said.
NETL’s collaboration with ORNL ensures the continued production of technological solutions to America’s energy challenges through the sharing of innovative ideas and research. Learning more about the gasification process to apply in future technologies will help enhance the country’s energy foundation while enabling responsible stewardship of the environment.